Unmasked (1917)

Unmasked is a heist caper about two jewel thieves competing for the same necklace and co-starred Grace Cunard’s long-time acting partner Francis Ford (John Ford’s brother). It has no other known print. Unmasked was selected for the U.S. National Film Registry in 2014. Styled like the European films of that time period, it has complex, bold cinematography with contrasting depths-of-field. Cunard created a strong, independent non-traditional female character who performs unfeminine physical exploits, is sexually free and unrepentant of her crimes. As noted in the Photoplay interview of 1916, “Miss Cunard has a decided preference for a Lady Raffles role. She thinks ingénue parts are insipid.

Grace Cunard, born Harriet Mildred Jeffries, was an American actress, screenwriter and film director. She grew up Columbus, Ohio and by her late teens, was already acting in live theatre and silent films, using the stage name Grace Cunard. She made her motion picture debut in 1910 in an uncredited role in a D.W. Griffith production for Biograph Studios. After making a number of westerns, she continued to work with actor-director Francis Ford at Universal Studios in a variety of dramas, and soon became Universal’s serial queen. In addition to acting, she wrote close to one hundred screenplays. From 1914 to 1921, she directed 11 films and produced two others. With the advent of sound in films, her star faded and by the late 1920’s her career had shifted to leads in B-movies and secondary roles in others. In 1946, Universal discontinued its program of serials and Cunard retired at the age of 53.

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